Making it Real - something wonderful this way comes?

Caroline Speirs, Head of Think Local Act Personal, blogs about shifting power and unlocking traditional mind sets with Making it Real.

In her opening words at Think Local Act Personal’s launch of Making it Real, Halima Khan, Chief Executive of Nesta, spoke about people powered health as the key route to supporting people to shape their own future. Halima urged us to think less about shifting power – this can create a battlefield - and to think more about sharing it. On the basis that if we share it, no one loses.   

That’s our intention with Making it Real; it’s our new approach to what good citizen focused care and support should look like.  It’s a framework that creates space for a different model of power – a shared power. 

By virtue of a great partnership, TLAP holds a privileged position that provides us with a multi-dimensional perspective. We get to speak to national leaders and decision makers. We meet regularly with practitioners and we work up close and personal with people with lived experience via our work with the National Co-production Advisory Group.  Viewed through that lens, we get to see up close the gap between the rhetoric of what ought to be supportive policy and legislation and the reality of what’s happening on the ground.

And the view isn’t always a good one:

“What exactly do I have to do to get the support I need to live my life?” – a plea from an exhausted colleague who accesses care and support.

“What will happen to my child when I die”?  - this from a parent who worries about a system that cannot see what her grown up daughter has to offer society, only how much she costs. A system that then spends inordinate amounts of time scrutinising how every last penny of  that cost is spent.

I was shown a support plan recently where so much of what had been identified as helpful to the person was rejected because the local authority wouldn’t allow the funding to be utilised in this way.  There was nothing about this plan that could be considered radical.  

How exhausting to constantly have to fight for every last offering.  Not to mention how humiliating. TLAP’s Chair, Clenton Farquharson, has spoken eloquently about the ‘everyday petty humiliations that chip away, endlessly, at people’s wellbeing.’ And all because people want to be more independent, want to have a life and not a service.  Nobody is asking for much here.

What does any of this have to do with power?

What does any of this have to do with power?  Quite a bit I think.  Clearly the impact of unprecedented cuts has some role in creating a harsh gate keeping system but it would be wrong to apportion all blame at the door of austerity.  We have, after all, lived through financially healthier times but processes were no less harsh and stifling when we had a bit more money in the back pocket.   

It strikes me that much of this is to do with remaining locked in to a mind-set where processes can be allowed to trump common sense and where transactions continue to trump relationships.  And what lies beneath this is an adherence to an old model of power where people are ‘done to’ not ‘with’.  This, despite so many examples of good pioneering practice that illustrates what happens when bureaucracy backs off and allows the good stuff to flourish.

The beauty and the power of Making it Real is that, applied properly, it gently encourages a shift in relations. It generates a change in focus and supports a new outlook, one that is far more about relationships than transactions.  An approach focused on a conversation, on what matters, on a life not a service. Valuing and trusting this perspective makes it more difficult to apply rigid processes and procedures that, seen through a citizen lens, appear to serve very little purpose.

The great thing too about TLAP is that sometimes the view is breath-taking. We get to see and hear many examples of approaches to care and support that are all forward thinking in their delivery and are transforming outcomes. Common to all these examples is a re-balancing in relationships.  A sharing of power.

Making it Real in Manchester

I began to see what a turbo charged version of this could look like in Manchester.  TLAP ran a session on Making it Real at the annual conference for Directors of Adult and Children’s Social Services. The room was packed to the rafters with directors and councillors who clearly all want to make real the helpful but as yet unimplemented (to a great extent) rhetoric. I was struck by the clear understanding  that in order to make it real, power has to be shared.  I attended a number of events where my colleagues from the National Co-production Advisory Group began to share power with system leaders by taking their rightful place on panels to discuss the issues that impact on their lives on a daily basis.  And over the road from NCASC, Social Care Future hosted a number of inspiring, challenging and motivating sessions where power was genuinely being shared between those who just want to get on with living their life and those who can support that.   

Something interesting happened in Manchester.  Some barriers were dismantled and a few roadblocks removed. Not only did the world continue to spin on its axis but it did so with gusto. The challenge now is to harness that energy and that optimism to go further and deeper and create the transformational system change we’ve spoken about for so long.  I am hopeful that with the arrival of the long awaited social care green paper, we will see a clear commitment to working in this way.

Think Local Act Personal will do everything it can to support that.


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